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Chapter V

Apostasy Of A Cheerful Liar

From "The Catskills" (1918)
By T. Morris Longstreth

The map had disclosed three possibilities of travel from Plaat Clove to Twilight Park. But only the morrow could disclose its sky. Our host, who claimed an intimacy with the adjacent weather, predicted a cessation of the snowflurries during the night. But with the north wind still doing its laborious worst, we weighed each route with the care employed by those who travel thoroughly - and have nothing else till bedtime.

The most interesting way led along the eastern parapet of mountain that runs about two thousand feet above the river valley. If the weather should clear, the contour lines promised us a magnificent off-look at a hundred places. Two miles north High Peak's shoulder slants in a human way to the place where the epaulette should be, and then drops abruptly, giving a view of an immense amphitheater. This route along the continuing bluff was also short as well as scenic. At the thought of its concise elegance we -wished our host well with his weather.

The second road led down through the Clove to the base of the Peak's main mass, skirted that, and went up through the Kaaterskill Clove. If the incompetent squalls should turn into a genuine storm, we could take that.

The third route marched up to the apex of the triangle at Tannersville and then down to Twilight, very much King-of-France style. This was long but on the level.

The Onti Ora

The Onti Ora

 
The morning came from force of habit, and we awoke, but not to the sun. The same corpse-colored clouds; the same northern gusts. We dressed shiveringly in the Good Dame's guestroom; Brute's face, a vision of pale blue complicated with red prominences. Only the knowledge that heaven (the kitchen range) was below kept my fingers from freezing to the clothes they tried to button. If there is any virtue to be got f rom. pioneering, we were virtuous f rom the epidermis in. But there is some potency in a quire of hotcakes. The Good Dame surpassed herself. We listened again while her husband told his tale: certainly clear by the afternoon and warmer anyway. So we stayed and helped the man repair his trout tackle, for the new season was but three long wishes off.

 
Dinner was the plump affair which was the pretty custom of this family: a pork roast being the axis around which revolved subsidiary dishes in a pleasant, planetary way. Speaking in the same spirit of parable that describes good little boys as composed of sugar plums, one could say that the Catskills were made of roast pork. A porkless day in those mountains means a dinnerless day. Every household is not considered complete unless equipped with a dynasty of squealers. The procession, in winter at least, runs serenely on-sty, rafter, and the dinner-table -- and a day without pig would be as disconsolate an affair as a week without a Saturday night. But there need be no feeling of monotony. There is no animal so versatile and none, I am sure, whose treatment is so diversified. On our trip the gamut of preparation ranged in taste from venison to whale.

When our host, after dinner, had postponed the clearing until the morrow or the day after, we felt that we must leave, compromising on the road toward Tannersville. With reluctance we set out, but that was soon forgotten in the pleasure of the road again. With our knapsacks on our backs and the rhythm of the road in our hearts, there came over me, at least, that sense of well-being it is hard to get in any other way than on foot. I did not know Brute well enough yet to decipher what language the wild country spoke to him, but I was glad to see that at least he did not wear his emotion, like a riband, around his sleeve. And so well had we begun to work in double harness that, as we set out along the opening valley, it seemed impossible that we should have known each other so short a while, even though of experience so variously full. It is the same way, however, with all walking trips. Close to earth everything is of importance. In the first few miles of the walker Is day there is a sense of well-being to promote good-fellowship, in the last few a sense of comradeship to mitigate fatigue. As Brute said once, "With the fellow you like, you can walk from anywhere at all to anywhere else and never mind the distance." And I might add that the surest test of the right friend is the ability to go nowhere-in-particular with him and still be interested and happy.

Our afternoon was to be remembered chiefly for its dramatic close, but still, despite the muscular wind and the unleavened clouds, I shall have no trouble thinking back with pleasure on the body of the march.

As the valley widened we bad glimpses at times through the variable veil of snow of Indian Head and Sugarloaf dimly on the left, of Round Top and High Peak, the splendid culmination of the great ground swell, looming indistinctly on the right. What sort of introduction to these Catskill ranges is best, I have never yet decided. Should one have all the possible beauty first as in those dazzling firework bombs that explode in showers of stars? Or should one get acquainted by degrees and with mounting enthusiasm to the final appreciation, as in the crescendo of a rocket's flight? I have seen this valley shining in the dews of a spring morning and glowing with the supremest glories of October, hot with the hazy breathlessness of a July noon, and whipped with winter winds. Yet through the half-luminous snow-dust of that first acquaintance the mountains took on an eerie height they do not in reality possess, and in that light I idealize them yet.

It is in this valley that one of the strange tricks which rivers seem to delight in is played. Waters falling at the head of the Plattekill Clove all reach the Hudson. One stream reaches it in ten merry miles. The other in a hundred and seventy-five. The course of the Plattekill. Creek is the course of a thousand cascades. In a couple of miles it falls a couple of thousand feet and loafs the rest of the way across the narrow plain. The other is the Schoharie. It is hard to tell where it rises, which is the parent spring, for in the short six miles there are more than thirty ravines each contributing a rill to make the brook. But I should imagine that the stream on Indian Head might have the credit, for its source is farthest east. From there the water runs west and north, east in the Mohawk and south from Albany. Some day some poet will wander down the full length of this enchanting stream and tell its adventures for the inland water babies. In that short life from Plaate Clove to the sea, its water meets all the vicissitudes of longer streams.

The hastening afternoon and a resurvey of the map were responsible for our decision to cut off across a spur of Round Top, called Clum Hill. This would shorten the way by two or three miles, which were to be missed very slightly, and would give us a view of many lands. Unfortunately the road chosen can never reveal what was missed on the way not taken. But by rerouteing destiny we were treated to two experiences which, f or superlativeness of sort, the way by Tannersville would have been hard put to it to excel.

Clum Hill is strategic ground for the viewseeker. Any time of day pays interest on the climb. But morning is best. Then Round Top is in relief, and shadows spread down the ravines of Sugarloaf and Indian Head, Twin Mountain and Plateau, that would rend a cubist with delight. Doubtless from such a scene it was that the first Art Fiend got his idea. Certainly the triangles, quadrilaterals, and parallelopipeds of the new art are all to be found cast in fascinating shadow into the gulfs. The facts that they are cast into the gulfs should give the cubists pause, but there they are, bold blocks of beauty to lend strength to the airier lines and color of the rest of the landscape. The thing the cubist artists forget to do is to put in the rest of the landscape.

From Clum Hill the valley of the Schoharie narrows to the northwest, where the Hunter Range and the East Jewett Range lose themselves in blue. Below to the north lies Tannersville, and still farther north rise the protecting slopes of Parker Mountain with Onteora Park sitting beneath its chin. But the sight that makes Clum Hill one of the imperative delights to see is the upper loveliness of the Schobarie guarded by Indian Head and his mountain kin. Here and there on the bottomland the hayfields shine against the maple woods. Here and there the blue smoke of noon dinners (pork chops and apple butter) floats across sunny roofs. Elka Park nestles beneath Spruce Top, and back of all the big Plateau Mountain comforts one with its solidity. Morning, noon, or evening there are more rational pleasures to be got from sitting comfortably on Clum with your back against a tree than in many a whole day Is march.

But when Brute and I first topped that engaging height there was very little thought about sitting. There were no hayfields, no pork chops in the view. The north wind was as sharp as suspicion's tooth. But at that moment was being prepared for us a surprise that was to make amends for the cloudy monotone of squalls, for the leaden coiling and ragged hangings of the last two days' entertainment. So uniform had been the coloring of the afternoon that we had paid no attention to the time. We did not realize that evening was upon us, until, through a tear in the sky-furnishings near the horizon, the sun shone levelly across us. The change was plain magic. In the space of a thrill the world turned the color of a plum preserve. The clouds dripped rose, and the snow drank up the color. The forests shone with rare tintings; only the hemlocks refused the mask of carnival. The long bulk of Plateau Mountain and the receding peaks glowed with a hue that was neither faded carmine nor old lavender. As the scene brightened for an instant everything seemed to swim in the freshet of strange light.

There are spring sunsets so cool, so fragrant, that they make you draw long breaths of peace; and there are midwinter brilliancies that exhilarate you with their strength. But this Arabian Nights' display was different. It was breathless, unannounced, like a universal lightning. It is one thing to watch the slow summer light deepen and fade away; it is quite another to be thrown into a sea of exotic splendor and held down. Art never takes the breath; the circus does. Nature was enjoying one of her rare, sensational moments. Almost at once, as if a spot-light had been removed, the color faded and went out. We had had an experience.

And now we were to have another. There is a farm possessing the near-top of the cleared hill, and from the farm a trail runs along and down the northern side of the ridge until, in the course of a couple of miles, it joins the carriage drive into Twilight Park. If we were to take the road to Tannersville and Haines Falls we would have all of four miles to go. Remembering our fortunes of the night before in arriving late for supper, we were unanimous in choosing the shorter route despite the woods, the failing light, the snow. It was a risk, but we were assured at the farm that the trail was easy to follow, being sign-posted every little while, and, as the worldly Brute remarked, the grub was worth the gamble.

Mountainside - Santa Cruz Park

Mountainside - Santa Cruz Park

 
We crossed the open fields without difficulty, connected with the trail-end, passed a sign or two of reassurance, and came, as had been predicted, to a sugar-grove. There a youth of fourteen in baggy trousers was preparing for the sugar season by tapping the gray-barked maples with steel spouts. In the grove evening was already loitering.

"Maybe we 'd better go by the road after all," suggested Brute.

"Let's ask him." We turned off the trail and went over to the boy. "Is it a fairly plain trail to Twilight Park?" I think "fairly" was our undoing.

"Sure," he said in an optimistic treble; "you can't miss it." He gave us the same directions that we had received at the farm and finished with, "You can't miss it. Only don't turn off when you get to the thicket. Jes' go right through."

 
Reinspired, we pushed on. As the slope was northerly, the snow was hard, and we walked rapidly. The woods seemed fairly open, and twice we were assured by signs that we were on the trail, but we saw no thicket. In a f ew minutes we altered our course, in order to be sure of the thicket. After having set our teeth to go through it, we were anxious to meet it. In another five minutes we were nervous for not having met it.

"Let Is go back and pick it up," suggested Brute. "We dares n't sidestep it." It was rather dark now and difficult to follow our back trail.

After a while, "This isn't a trail; it's a creek."

It was. I went through the ice. We edged up the slope a little.

"Do you suppose Twilight Park is any darker In this?" asked Brute. "It must 'a' been a blind man began it. " All humor is of the soil, and when Brute relapsed into the speech of the soil I knew that he was feeling the humor of the occasion. Many a time our trip might have expired from misadventure if it had n't been for this sense of humor which welled up always a little higher than the peak of the immediate misfortune.

I was busy keeping up with the dim knapsack ahead of me, for when Brutus is agitated his stride lengthens. At length he collided with an invisible beech. But his only remark was, "I Id like to got my hands on the cheerful liar who said we could n't miss our way."I

"He lied better than he knew," I said, "for there 's a light.

We stumbled excitedly along. But the light went out. In a minute we found ourselves in the ashen gloom of that sugar-grove of twenty minutes back, with the same boy still in his identical trousers. He was coolly gathering up his tools. The light had been transferred to a cigarette.

"Hello," he said, "so it's you fellers again. Get lost?"

"No. Been huntin' mushrooms," muttered Brute. "Got a lantern?"

The boy, enveloped in cigarette smoke and darkness, said nothing.

"He doesn't really mean a lantern for mushrooms," I hastened to explain, "but we couldn't find the thicket and we'll return it to-morrow. "

The boy hadn't any lantern. But he offered to put us beyond the thicket, and for a little money I secured his services for the through trip to Twilight. He led off saying, "It is a bit shady, but you can't miss it."

"Isn't he a cheerful liar?" whispered Brute at my heels.

A bit shady no more described the first hemlock grove we got into than Egypt in the plague. It was as black as a 'phone booth in a cellar. Out we would crawl into one semi-clearing, only to replunge into another pocket of darkness. Our guide struck a match now and then.

After passing through a few sets of brambles, any one of which was adequate to deserve the name of thicket, I began to admire the sureness with which the boy led us on. But when we began to wander in a general sort of brambledom, I began to doubt.

"How many thickets are there on this trip?" Brute asked.

"Only the one," replied the guide with a shade less confidence

"Well, we haven't missed that then." Brute was evidently thinking my thoughts. The psychology of the moment was being shared by all three alike. For as we were about to penetrate the barrier for the third time in the manner of that son of Mother Goose who scratched out both his eyes, we halted simultaneously and without a word spoken.

"The Park ought to be sort of over there," and our guide waved vaguely into the darkness, which was now unfeatured and complete.

"I think it's kind of over there," suggested Brute with a magnificent gesture.

"I dunno but what it is," said the poor kid.

We spread out our map on the snow and I held the match.

"You don't guess we're on High Peak?" continued the irrepressible; "it looks as if it might be awful brambly there."

"Oh, no, not on High Peak," the youngster replied solemnly. The match burned out. The darkness swooped upon us, three solemn asses grouped on all f ours about the paper showing dully on the snow. I struck another on a board beside me. It was a finger-post, saying, "To Clum Hill."

"Sure, that 's the trail going backwards," exclaimed the Cheerful One. "I knew we couldn't miss."

"Of course not," interrupted Brute; "nobody could miss a trail that wanders around like this 'un. But what I want to know is which side of that briar-patch we 're on now."

The remainder of the crossing was performed with minor acrobatics, but performed. We trod a road once more with an exhalation of repose. When we had arrived at the entrance of the Park, we blessed our guide and sent him back. But not before Brute had made him say that one could miss the way.

"It will purify his soul," said my companion later. Until then I had not heard him refer to that abstraction. It interested me.

 

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